The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has honoured journalists in the region during an awards ceremony to recognise those who excel in the profession.
Zambian journalist Patson Phiri won the top prize in the print category at the SADC Media Awards in Tshwane on Saturday. The ceremony was part of the 37th SADC Summit, hosted by South Africa as the incoming chair of the regional body.
Phiri walked away with a prize of US$ 2000 for his entry on cascading energy and how challenges are being addressed to put the region back on the industrial revolution rails. He spoke to SAnews on the sidelines of the summit.
"It is very important that we, as journalists of the Southern African region, tell our own stories. Many times, we are engulfed in news packaged by foreign news agencies, and the verge of distortion and the appetite for distortion is quite high. As a result of that, the world is misinformed on what takes place in the region."
Phiri said achievements and growth in the SADC region don't often make front page news in foreign agency publications, which is why he is driven to tell the African story through the lens of an African journalist.
Phiri reckons that Africa should be portrayed as a continent that is richer than most.
"We should tell the world that Africa is the richest continent because you cannot go anywhere else and find [so much] land for farming, but you find that in our continent.
"The future of any economy relies on the availability of natural resources. Without land, you cannot develop. Many countries have reached a climax in terms of development, but Africa has not even reached 10% of its potential, so that is the move that we want to make."
Flying the South African flag high at the award ceremony, South Africans Msibi Nkosini Samuel and Dennis Tshetlhane both won a prize of US$ 2000 for the television category for their entry on a story which looked at the illicit trade of minerals in the SADC region and the growing number of illegal miners operating in South Africa.
Tshetlhane spoke to SAnews: "Illegal mining is a very hot topic in our country right now, especially when you look at the economic impact it has on communities."
During his investigations into the story, Tshetlhane realised that highly intelligent people are involved in illegal mining operations.
"There are former soldiers from neighbouring countries, who do not have jobs back home. They come to South Africa and due to a lack of job opportunities, most of them opt for illegal mining, and it becomes very difficult for our law enforcement agencies to trace them because they were trained in military and warfare. It is a huge task for our government to curb this crime."
Tshetlhane said he realised that even families work together in illegal mining, from fathers to daughters, and they divide duties from gathering the gold dust to grinding and selling, an operation that compromises many lives.
However, the big dogs of the game live large in mansions, while those who operate underground die slowly from illegal mining.
Another downside of illegal mining is the environmental impact, as a lot of water is used to clean the gold dust.
"It is not only lives that are lost, the environment is also affected," said Tshetlhane.
It took him and his colleague about a week to package the illegal mining story. Tshetlhane has been in the field of journalism for about 22 years, and has been specialising in investigative journalism. Although his life is sometimes at stake during investigations, he just can't seem to shake off the journalism bug. He advised aspirant journalists and those who are already in the field to go for excellence, instead of aiming for awards.
"Always focus on excellence. Check your facts and get your story right."
Other winners of the day included Aristides Kito Afonso Jorge from the Republic of Angola, who won about US$ 2000 in the radio category for his entry, which highlighted the importance of conservation and protection of cultural heritage in Southern Africa as a factor for regional integration.
The photography category was won by Gasietsiwe Moruakgomo from the Republic of Botswana for his entry on ferry transport linking Botswana and Zambia in Kasane.
The South African government has congratulated journalists who excelled in the 2017 SADC Media Awards. The awards were conferred by the outgoing chair of SADC, King Mswati III of Swaziland, during the opening ceremony of the 37th SADC Summit.
The summit is convened in the year of OR Tambo, which is observed under the theme 'Partnering with the private Sector in developing industry and regional value chains'.
Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said the awards serve as a link for coordination and synchronisation between the formal structures of SADC member states and the media.
"These awards further seek to bring and enhance partnerships between media and government institutions in advancing the achievements and good stories of this region in bettering the lives of its citizens."
Minister Dlodlo said there is a need to work together with SADC countries to popularise the projects that are underway in the SADC region.
"It is through the media that the work of SADC can be visible. We need more African voices to tell SADC stories. Africa is rising and we need to tell that story of Africa rising."